Police Question Malaysian Insider CEO, Editors About Corruption Story

Hata Wahari and S. Adie Zul
Kuala Lumpur
160226-MY-Muhyiddin-1000 Former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (center) greets supporters during a rally in Kuala Lumpur, Dec. 7, 2015.

Malaysian police Friday questioned the chief executive and four other staffers of a popular news website that was blocked by the government after it published a report about corruption allegations shadowing Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The five from The Malaysian Insider (TMI) were summoned to police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on the same day that the leading party of the ruling coalition suspended former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, a vocal critic of Najib’s government, as the party’s deputy president.

Najib sacked Muhyiddin as his deputy in July for publically criticizing him over corruption allegations connected to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state investment fund.

In suspending Muhyiddin from his number 2 post in the United Malays National Organization, officials claimed Friday he “did not properly assist” UMNO’s president, Najib.

Meanwhile, police spent four hours questioning TMI Chief Executive Officer Jahabar Sadiq, Managing Editor Lionel Morais and Assistant News editor V. Anbalagan. They also questioned two of the website’s sub-editors, Abdar Rahman Koya and Srihanasham Noordin.

The five were summoned a day after telecommunications companies shut down the website under a directive from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).

Following the ban, TMI provided an alternative address to access the website but that too was blocked by local internet regulators, according to the Malay Mail Online newspaper.

The site was blocked domestically after the website published a report alleging that there was credible evidence to frame charges against Najib in a scandal linked to 1MDB.

On Friday, Jahabar told reporters via WhatsApp that he and his staff were “standing by their story.”

‘We did not disclose our source’

Najib had faced investigations over a deposit of U.S. $681 million (2.6 billion ringgit) into his personal bank accounts in 2013, amid reports that tied the money to 1MDB. He has insisted he did not take any of the money for personal gain.

Last month, Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali cleared Najib of potential corruption charges after receiving a report from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which was not made public.

On Jan. 26, Apandi said “no crime was committed” and that the money was a “personal donation” to Najib from Saudi Arabia’s royal family. However, the commission later referred the case to an eight-member Operations Review Panel, an independent body set up to monitor MACC operations and review cases not taken to court for prosecution.

On Wednesday, the anti-graft body said the panel had asked it to reopen its investigation into the controversial donation, and resubmit investigative findings to the attorney general for review.

The Malaysian Insider website was blocked after it published the report that cited an unnamed member of the review panel.

“We did not disclose our source from the panel who provided us with the information as this is part of journalist code of ethics to not disclose sources,” Jahabar said.

A day earlier, the MCMC issued a statement warning news portals “not to spread or broadcast articles of uncertain validity, which can cause confusion and undesired situations.”

In messages posted on Twitter on Friday, Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said he had directed the Police Cyber Investigation Response Centre to summon Jahabar for questioning because of the news website’s report on the anti-corruption commission.

Najib comments

Meanwhile, in a blog post headlined “Netizens for greater good,” the prime minister weighed in on the TMI issue.

Najib chided TMI and blamed “keyboard warriors, cyber troopers and news portals” for turning the internet into their “playground” through enticing headlines that, he said, served their own agendas.

“This is an unhealthy practice of journalism. The internet is a shared property owned collectively by all global citizens. As such, we have the responsibility not to misuse it,” Najib said.

‘Noose of censorship’

Elsewhere, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday criticized Malaysia for its latest move to restrict press freedom and silence critics of Najib’s government, calling on it to remove the online block of TMI.

“By blocking The Malaysian Insider, the government is engaged in a blatant and outrageous breach of freedom of the press that increases fears about Malaysia’s faltering commitment to human rights and democratic principles,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy director for Asia, said in a message posted on Twitter.

Najib’s administration is “tightening the noose of censorship and control,” Robertson added.

UMNO suspension draws criticism

Muhyiddin was suspended as UMNO’s deputy president during a two-hour meeting of its Supreme Council at party headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

UMNO Secretary General Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor said the council had determined that Muhyiddin breached an article of the party’s constitution, which states that “the party’s deputy president should assist the president in the latter’s duties.”

Muhyiddin had violated the article through his prolonged criticism of Najib, Tengku Adnan said, according to the Star Online.

Muhyiddin supporters criticized the decision.

These included Mukhriz Mahathir, who was forced to step down as Kedah state chief minister earlier this month following a revolt led by UMNO leaders loyal to Najib.

Mukhriz, who is the son of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the most vocal critic of Najib’s administration, described the council’s latest move as a “disgraceful decision.”

UMNO Vice President Zahid Hamidi, who also replaced Muhyiddin as deputy PM, will take over as the party’s deputy president.

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